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Nicole Gaffney, 29, isn’t just another personal chef — her magnetic personality and innate culinary talent set her apart from the crowd. She grew up cooking with her Sicilian grandparents and comes from a family of commercial fishermen, and her "coastal cuisine" take on food is heavily influenced by her family and growing up in a seaside town. Read on below to hear from Nicole, and learn about her style of cooking and thoughts on the competition.
What are you most looking forward to in this experience?
Nicole: Learning. Yeah. I'm really looking forward to learning. Just with the other competitors alone, I think there's so much each of us can take away from the other person — not just in terms of cooking knowledge, because there's a ton of stuff to be learned there, but just about life in general and TV presence. This whole experience — the things that we can take away from the judges and the mentors ... I feel like what I'm going to know when this is all said and done versus what I knew going into it is going to be monumental.
How did you prepare for the competition?
Nicole: I definitely tried to hone up on my recipes. I reference recipes all the time. I feel like if I was thrown into a kitchen and had to wing it, I would be alright, but I wanted to really memorize certain things, especially when it comes to baking. I don't know if there's going to be any baking challenges, and that kind of stuff has to be pretty precise. Whether it's a half a teaspoon of baking powder or a teaspoon of baking soda can totally make a difference in what you're baking, so I wanted to make sure that I had some really solid stuff in my head ready to go. I tried to watch some past seasons and listen to some of the critiques that the judges gave.
Which mentor are you most excited to learn from?
Nicole: Probably Alton. He seems to really know what he's talking about. I mean, they all do. But Alton, he was in production before he ever had his show, so he really knows this stuff soup to nuts. And he also seems the most eager to teach. All of the judges do, but he seems like he's really interested in getting us to be Stars.
Which mentor do you find to be the most intimidating?
Nicole: Bobby. He's kind of just, like, straight-laced. ... He seems like he takes no prisoners. I don't want to serve him bad food. That'd be mortifying.
What is one thing you most want to convey to the judges about you, your food or your would-be show on Food Network?
Nicole: I just want to convey to them that I'm knowledgeable and unique, which is one thing that I'm really working on defining within myself. And that my food is good, that I can execute proper techniques, and that it just tastes good, that it's delicious, that they want to eat more of it.
What’s your Achilles’ heel ingredient, one that you hate to work with?
Nicole: I would say rice. Rice can be really tricky to get perfect. ... It seems so simple, but I just think it's really easy to screw up. Risotto is easy to screw up. Cooking rice can get mushy.
What's your guilty pleasure food?
Nicole: Ice cream
What's your favorite late-night snack?
Nicole: Cold pizza. Or maybe some kind of pretzels. Something salty. Or maybe something sweet — depends what kind of mood I'm in.
What's one must-have at your last supper?
Nicole: I would probably say a really good lobster roll. ... Simply prepared, but really good fresh lobster on a really soft, buttered top-split hot dog bun.
Rapid fire: Think fast!
Ketchup, mustard or mayonnaise? Mustard
Chocolate or vanilla? Vanilla
Bagels or doughnuts? Doughnuts
Cream cheese or butter? Butter
Coffee or tea? Both. I go back and forth.
French fries or onion rings? Onion rings
White meat or dark? I like both.
Cake or pie? Pie
Beer or wine? Beer
Pancakes or French toast? French toast
It's going to be a summer of heated competition as Food Network Star gears up for its most-explosive season yet, a 10th year of putting hopeful rivals through the job interview of their lives. To make it to August and ultimately land a sought-after television career — Food Network show host — finalists will have to impress mentor-judges Alton Brown, Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis with the coveted combination of cooking chops and on-camera charm. Season 10 kicks off Sunday, June 1 at 9|8c, but before then, FN Dish is introducing fans to all of the contestants. This year's crop of competitors boasts business owners, executive chefs, world travelers and farm-to-table enthusiasts — not to mention fiery personalities, over-the-top entertainers and undeniable competitive spirits. Check back every day to meet another finalist, then learn more about each of them by checking out their casting videos.